Friday, February 25, 2011

Mike Conway's "Degradated Shadows" @ Salt Creek

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic based on the acceptance of transience. Imperfect, impermanent and incomplete are three of its salient qualities. Other aspects commonly found in it are: Simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and accepting the natural cycles of growth, decay and death. The Japanese differentiate between normal beauty, "kirei" meaning 'pretty' and the wabi-sabi kind with "omoshiroi", which literally means 'white face', but its meanings range from fascinating to fantastic.

Mike Conway refers to wabi sabi in his artist's statement. He mentions how street art catches his attention, particularly when it's weathered. In this show, the mixed media prints are scratched, torn, etc.  then added to via paint, charcoal, textures and encaustic. The work is photographically-based, and "Degradated Shadows" represents a year's worth of Mike's work.

It's been a good year. "Lavinia Forgotten" shows a bust-length image of a woman looking intently at her left hand, which she is holding up even with her face. What seems to be flames issue upwards from her fingertips, as does her hair from the top of her head. A mysterious image of contemplative evanescence. 

A lot of Mike's images here have Floridian themes of the vanishing-Florida kind. There's "Joy" a girl picking oranges in a nostalgic, dreamy grove. The ironwork gate of the Manatee (County) Cemetery, titled "Final Turn", which is more ambiguous than it seems, and reflects on Mike's sense of humor.

In the quadtych "Degradated Shadows, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall", The theme of impermanence in life, and the beauty in that living state of change are depicted in the context of the passing of a year. Not just a literal four seasons, or a calendrical one, but an inner year as well.

The work in the show has a strong surreal streak running through it. One of the strongest in this regard is "Free Fall".
 A mannequin torso floats, seemingly suspended among the clouds. Mike told me how he did it, the old-fashioned way, by repeatedly throwing the truncated figure literally into the air, and doing it over rolls of film to get the base image. Yes, this could be done easily in digital, but it would not have the rich, impermanent spontaneity this image does. The shadows, as with all of Mike's works here have a delightful, nuanced graduation to them that articulates with the entire visual field.  He adds sheet film-holder edges to the pictures, at least in this case.

"Degradated Shadows" is an engaging, memorable show, one that will help the viewer to make peace with many things that confront us all, and encourage an inner dialogue about the nature of beauty in the art and yourself. It will be up through March 11th, at Salt Creek Artworks, 1600 4th St. S., St Petersburg.

Mike can be reached at or 727.504.3539

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